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MERCER COUNTY Commissioners mull actions over machines



Published: Fri, April 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Mercer County had to start over after its Unilect machines were decertified.

MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County commissioners are moving forward with plans for the May 17 primary.

Commissioners agreed Thursday to consider naming a citizens advisory committee to help choose a new voting-machine system to replace the decertified Unilect Patriot System the county had been using. Robert Lark, chairman of the Mercer County Democrat Committee, requested the creation of the committee.

Lark served on the Independent Election Commission that studied the reasons for the loss of thousands of votes here in the November 2004 election. He said civic groups and the two major political parties should be involved in choosing new machines.

On Thursday, commissioners also passed two measures necessary to pave the way for using an optical scan voting system as they had agreed to do Monday at a meeting in Beaver County with state officials.

The three counties are the only ones in the state which use the Unilect system, which the state decertified, meaning they can't be used in Pennsylvania. The state has agreed to pay the three counties' expenses for using the optical scan system in May and probably November because there likely is no time to purchase a new system before that.

Commissioners passed resolutions to declare an emergency and authorize leasing the optical scan system for the primary election. The measures make it legal under state election law for the county to use the optical scan system.

Picking up the tab

State officials told commissioners at the meeting Monday that they will pay the approximate $83,000 cost for renting the optical scan system for the primary election. They said they will also pay if the county has to use this system again for the November general election.

Brooks said Thursday that the county also wants reimbursement for an additional $16,000 in expenses incurred in preparations for a primary election using the Unilect machines. The state waited nearly two months after re-examining the machines before informing the county that it could no longer use them.

Lazor said the county is waiting for the state's "memorandum of understanding" outlining what it will pay for, and it will then be reviewed by the county's lawyers.

Commissioners also released a letter received this week from Unilect President Jack Gerbel. Gerbel defended the Unilect Patriot System and said the report by state examiner Michael Shamos outlining reasons for the decertification contained "inaccuracies," "items that are irrelevant," "items that are pure conjecture" and other items that could be resolved quickly.

Gerbel said the screen that "froze" during the exam has nothing to do with the voter units used in Pennsylvania. He said this occurred during a demonstration on how to verify calibration, a test that would be performed in a warehouse, not in a precinct.

He added that many of the other criticisms in the report could easily be remedied by Unilect. Gerbel also said that the machines have not passed the 2002 federal standards for voting machines but added that no other voting machine company has completely passed them either.

Gerbel also criticized state officials for releasing news of the decertification without asking Unilect for comments. He said the news is damaging his company's prospects for survival.




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